Multi-award winning Wicked has been casting its magical spell over audiences of all ages across the world for a decade and continues to be a record-breaking hit at London’s Apollo Victoria Theatre, where it is already the 16th longest-running West End musical of all time.
"One of the most popular West End musical ever." Evening Standard
"The perfect choice for a spellbinding night out." Daily Mail
Based on the acclaimed novel by Gregory Maguire that re-imagined the stories and characters created by L. Frank Baum in ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’, Wicked tells the incredible untold story of an unlikely but profound friendship between two girls who first meet as sorcery students. Their extraordinary adventures in Oz will ultimately see them fulfill their destinies as Glinda The Good and the Wicked Witch of the West.
Packed with thrilling technical wizardry, dazzling costumes, an ingenious and witty story and show-stopping songs (by multi GRAMMY® and Academy Award® winner Stephen Schwartz), Wicked is an unforgettable, enchanting experience that is not to be missed so book your tickets today!
Broadway blockbuster musical Wicked opened last night at the West End’s Apollo Victoria Theatre (See News, 16 Dec 2005), complete with a green carpet for the celebrities dotted among the audience, and cheers from the supportive crowd as each of the main characters arrived on stage. But did it live up to the hype?
Wicked tells the “untold story” of the Witches of Oz - popular blonde Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, and her spin-victim friend Elphaba, the green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West – who were both immortalised in the 1939 film classic The Wizard of Oz. The show has a book by Winnie Holtzman, based on Gregory Maguire’s novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz.
The majority of overnight critics enjoyed the spectacle of the lavish production, and the “powerhouse” performances of Menzel and Dallimore as the Wicked and Good Witches, respectively. However, they also said the show was overblown, occasionally preachy, and suffered from more hype than heart.
Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com (3 stars) – “For all its spectacular beauty, ingenious costumes, literate lyrics and well crafted songs, the show is curiously cold and often, unlike the original yellow brick road, quite hard to follow.... Joe Mantello’s production, with designs by Eugene Lee and costumes by Susan Hilferty, is a miracle of staging and showmanship, full of witty allusions to the 1939 MGM movie, but equally determined to create its own visual world within a huge arrangement of cogs, lifts, steel structures and scenic daubs. The songs, too, cover the full range of point numbers, anthems and power ballads with a sure grasp of satirical intent and emotional energy. As on Broadway, Idina Menzel’s Elphaba is a green-skinned dynamo with a surging voice and a wonderfully light touch…. Her opposite number, Glinda, the prom school queen with a popularity obsession, is beautifully played and sung – if a little too squeakily at first – by Australian newcomer Helen Dallimore. Adam Garcia plays Fiyero with far less comic bluster than did Norbert Leo Butz originally, but he has a wild and compensating charm. Miriam Margolyes makes a fully rounded (in every sense of the word) character of Madame Morrible, the headmistress at Shiz who becomes the Wizard’s press secretary, while the Wizard himself is delightfully played by Nigel Planer.”
Sheridan Morley in the Daily Express – “This is a truly eccentric affair…. To judge from the way the first night audience was cheering as at a rock concert from the outset, I suspect it may… prove triumphant over here for its sheer spectacle…. While no Sondheim, Schwartz writes a succession of songs which admirably fit the fast changing moods. Idina Menzel recreates her Tony Award-winning performance as the Wicked Witch, with Helen Dallimore now playing the sickly sweet Glinda. Nigel Planer is perhaps a little lightweight as the Wizard, but he makes up for that in the score’s one show-stopping number, ‘Wonderful’. For the rest, just sit back and marvel at what it must all have cost, preferably without recalling the movie too clearly or indeed too affectionately.”
Michael Billington in the Guardian (3 stars) – “Friends of Dorothy may be diverted by this musical prequel to The Wizard of Oz. But, although it has been a hit in New York, it seems all too typical of the modern Broadway musical: efficient, knowing and highly professional but more like a piece of industrial product than something that genuinely touches the heart or mind…. There is a certain zest about the love-hate relationship between the despised Elphaba and the glamorous Glinda, who are college contemporaries. Stephen Schwartz's lyrics even display an unusual literacy…. Miriam Margolyes, as a statuesque, magic-dispensing college principal, has a Dickensian exuberance that evokes the world of Boz more than Oz. Having whetted our appetites, Wicked lapses into knowingness and moralism…. Worse still, the musical decides it has to make a public statement about the importance of sisterhood. In the least beguiling number in the show, Elphaba and Glinda jointly and unconvincingly assert: ‘Because I knew you, I have been changed for good.’ Admittedly, the show is well performed. As Elphaba, Idina Menzel possesses lungs of brass and displays the vulnerability of the congenital loner. Helen Dallimore's Glinda is very funny as the peachy blonde who begins by announcing ‘it's good to see me, isn't it?’ and gradually evolves into an Evita-style power-broker. Nigel Planer potters around effectively as the not-so-wonderful wizard and Adam Garcia endows the male romantic interest Fiyero with a louche charm.”
Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph – “The account of fickle girly relationships is told with wit and panache…. At times the show undoubtedly slips into preachy. But mercifully Winnie Holzman’s script keeps the gags coming as it cleverly subverts the film that spawned it. And Joe Mantello’s production… is packed with spectacular coups de theatre…. Stephen Schwartz’s lyrics are occasionally touched with wit, but what he really specialises in are big gloopy power ballads that allow the two female leads to stand centre stage and soar into the stratospheric. This they do with some style. Idina Menzel… offers a winning powerhouse performance as Elphaba…. Helen Dallimore is at times laugh-out-loud funny as the pert, preening Glinda…. No one could accuse Wicked of being a great musical – indeed at times it’s a bit of a mess – but it proves far more enjoyable than I had dared to hope, and deserves a wider audience than adolescent schoolgirls.”
Paul Taylor in the Independent – “The audience was so papered with connected people that everything was greeted with uniform ecstasy. Green-faced and in hideously clashing student clothes, Idina Menzel had merely to walk on stage, as Elphaba, the future Wicked Witch, and the roof came off…. I confess that my tummy lurched pleasurably during the evening's big uplifting number…. The Wonderful Wizard (a very poor Nigel Planer) is exposed early on as a fraudulent coward, who, because he can't read his own spell-literature, has to unite the country by demonising sections of the community - animals, Munchkins etc. The attempt at topical political allegory is well-meaning but also melodramatic, incoherent and dreadfully superficial…. I enjoyed very little apart from the delicious Miriam Margolyes…. The songs sound like dozens you've heard before. The acting is, by and large, appalling. The book is aimed uncertainly at several constituencies. The production manages to feel at once overblown and empty. As the crowds heaved up for air during the interval, a lady next to me asked: ‘Are you liking it?’ ‘I'm afraid I'm not,’ I replied. There was a ghastly pause. ‘Well, everyone else is!’ she barked. I fear the show's message about the need to assert the right to be different may not be getting across.”
We’re back in the land of Oz – and it’s a very good time to be here. While Kerry Ellis just keeps getting better and better vocally and emotionally as Elphaba - her outstanding performance as the green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West is worthy of its own award - she’s now been joined by several new, largely welcome additions, not least her co-star Dianne Pilkington, who’s taken over from original London cast member Helen Dallimore as Glinda the Good Witch.
With a wonderful voice and superb comic timing, Pilkington fits perfectly into her role – and succeeds in maximising the laugh factor. Her big song “Popular” becomes a real showstopper that leaves the audience in hysterics. But she also succeeds in plucking the heart strings, particularly in the touching “Ozdust Ballroom” scene. The love-hate relationship between Elphaba and Glinda is crucial to the show’s plot, and as the two rivals Ellis and Pilkington match each other in spades, thereby raising the emotional stakes to captivating effect.
Oliver Thompsett, who has taken over as Fiyero, doesn’t yet feel fully settled into his role as the charming boy who comes between the two friends. His dancing lacks the power to own the stage during his big number “Dancing Through Life”, and there’s little genuine chemistry between him and Elphaba. That said, he does compensate with a powerful voice.
Elsewhere, Andy Mace gives his all as Dr Dillamond, to pleasing effect, and Susie Blake makes a delicious Madame Morrible opposite a weary, supposedly “wonderful” Wizard of Oz Nigel Planer, who should stop walking the yellow brick road soon - he seems to have lost all energy for the show.
Still, Wicked is fantastic family entertainment – spellbinding even – and now more magical than ever thanks to Ellis and Pilkington. Oh, and the sets are still elaborate and the costumes divine. Magical.
- Ryan Woods
Note: The following THREE-STAR review dates from January 2007.
Kerry Ellis had big shoes to fill when she took over from Tony Award-winner Idina Menzel in the role of Elphaba, the “wicked” green-skinned witch in the much-hyped Broadway hit Wicked. And fill them she does, as her assured, vocally and emotionally powerful performance is easily on a par with that of her predecessor.
While Menzel played the role with her own American accent, Ellis' Elphaba bears the new star's natural English accent, which works well in dialogue. Curiously, she opts to perform some of the songs with more than a hint of a transatlantic influence, no doubt a mark indelibly left by Menzel who created the now almost iconic role. However, Ellis has an incredibly strong voice which does not suffer by comparison. She raises the roof with her "Wizard and I", "Defying Gravity" and "No Good Deed". All of these seem to require enormous lung power, and Ellis delivers it.
But that said, where she really triumphs is in creating a more believable character of Elphaba, with her awkward, nervous mannerisms on arrival at the University of Shiz (which is to Wicked what Hogwarts is to Harry Potter) gradually giving way to a more confident, mature personality. The humour she brings to the role is enjoyable and stirring. Where Menzel was slightly too “Hollywood”, Ellis keeps it real. Well, as real as you can be in a world of flying monkeys and tin men.
The other lead cast members continue to please, in particular Helen Dallimore, who plays the ever-popular Glinda and is hilarious in her big song, "Popular". There’s a touching relationship between the two “witches”, and a genuine spark between Ellis and Adam Garcia as the dashing Fiyero.
Wicked is good family entertainment, and though it may try too hard to be worthy by over-emphasising its messages of friendship and tolerance (and there are some horribly cringe-worthy lines, particularly in Act Two), there's plenty here to please its legions of fans, new and old, for many months to come.
- Caroline Ansdell
Note: The following THREE-STAR review dates from September 2006 and this production's original opening night with previous Elphaba, Idina Menzel.
Wicked is something of a mystery to me. In telling the back story, or prequel, to Frank L Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, it delves into all sorts of interesting areas of political speculation, friendship, the price of popularity and the layered relationships between the human, animal and supernatural kingdoms.
And yet for all its spectacular beauty, ingenious costumes, literate lyrics and well-crafted songs, the show is curiously cold and often, unlike the original yellow brick road, quite hard to follow. While I found the musical both confusing and overwhelming in New York two years ago, I was more struck by the obvious effect it had on an audience for whom The Wizard of Oz is a Biblical text and Gregory Maguire’s cult 1995 novel Wicked, the musical’s main source, and sauce, a valid expression of a national curiosity about the characters.
How did the Wicked Witch exactly become so “wicked”? Winnie Holzman’s adaptation of Maguire’s novel and the songs of Stephen Schwartz transport us back in time to a pre-mythical journey through the fantasy land of Oz: in the University of Shiz, on an away-day to the Emerald City, deep in the tangled forests of flying monkeys and high on the turrets of the Wizard’s Palace.
It turns out, of course, that the Wicked Witch, Elphaba, wasn’t really wicked at all, just green. Her friendship with the Good Witch of the North, Glinda, is the show’s axis, and their college pal Fiyero, a self-regarding playboy, their target of romantic competition. In standing up for truth and justice – represented by her climactic Act One closer, “Defying Gravity” – Elphaba finds herself on the wrong side of the political regime in Oz and Glinda has to find a way of redefining their friendship.
Joe Mantello’s production, with designs by Eugene Lee and costumes by Susan Hilferty, is a miracle of staging and showmanship, full of witty allusions to the 1939 MGM movie, but equally determined to create its own visual world within a huge arrangement of cogs, lifts, steel structures and scenic daubs. The songs, too, cover the full range of point numbers, anthems and power ballads with a sure grasp of satirical intent and emotional energy.
As on Broadway, Idina Menzel’s Elphaba is a green-skinned dynamo with a surging voice and a wonderfully light touch, as when she's presented with the black hat that looks something like the crooked spire of the church at Chesterfield and her life ahead crumbles to dust in a single look. Her opposite number, Glinda, the prom school queen with a popularity obsession, is beautifully played and sung – if a little too squeakily at first – by Australian newcomer Helen Dallimore. Adam Garcia plays Fiyero with far less comic bluster than did Norbert Leo Butz originally, but he has a wild and compensating charm.
Miriam Margolyes makes a fully rounded (in every sense of the word) character of Madame Morrible, the headmistress at Shiz who becomes the Wizard’s press secretary, while the Wizard himself is delightfully played by Nigel Planer, taking another significant step on his latter-day progress through musical comedy roles. In the big onward sweep of the show, some characters, especially that of Elphaba’s crippled sister Nessarose (Katie Rowley Jones) get lost in the wake. But that may seem a footling complaint in the cynical showbiz land of Oz where the biggest bang makes the biggest bucks and humanity, in the end, goes to the wall.
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